Havenhurst now joins the Dakota of Rosemary’s Baby, the surreal gateway to tragedy of Dario Argento’s Inferno, and the Brooklyn brownstone of The Sentinel. However, unlike those other films, the titular monstrosity of Havenhurst is not haunted by the supernatural, but by the “most dangerous game.” Director Andrew C. Erin’s Havenhurst is a taut thriller that clocks in at just under 85 minutes. From its pacing to its dialogue, there’s not much fat or wasted motion in this motion picture.
Havenhurst follows Jackie (played by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel veteran Julie Benz), a recovering alcoholic who has been given a room (1006, to be exact) in the Havenhurst building. Unlike other Manhattan apartment buildings, Havenhurst specializes in charity cases and those who have been recently released from rehab. It seems only the worst of the worst end up in Havenhurst, from violent pedophiles to unashamed prostitutes. Jackie’s gravest crime occurred years ago when, in a drunken stupor, she crashed her car with her daughter inside. The girl didn’t make it.
Right from the start, the viewers know that something isn’t quite kosher about Havenhurst. In the first sequence, Jackie’s friend and fellow rehab veteran Danielle (played by Danielle Harris, of Halloween fame) is killed alongside her junkie boyfriend by some unseen assailant. Once inside the building’s walls, Jackie begins hunting for the truth about what happened to Danielle. Her aids in this quest are an NYPD detective named Tim (played by Josh Stamberg) and a little girl named Sarah (played by Belle Shouse).
Because every good horror story set in a creepy apartment building needs a malevolent landlord, Eleanor Mudgett (played by Fionnula Flanagan) steps into the role with exquisite panache. At her hip is her son Ezra (Matt Lasky), a seemingly kind, but off-putting maintenance man. These two are in charge of eviction notices. In Havenhurst, getting evicted means you’re doomed to die. That’s where the mysterious third man (played by Douglas Tait) comes in. Concealed nicely behind false walls and trapdoors, this man is the lord high executioner of Havenhurst.
Havenhurst fits in neatly with the mainstream of horror cinema in the 21st century. Although blissfully light on the jump scares, Erin’s film still manages to check off every box that is familiar to horror aficionados. Dread is built well, but the film also contains gratuitous violence and it ultimately reveals its monster. Similarly, Havenhurst bases much of its plot on a real-life serial killer from the 19th century, but this reference isn’t necessarily essential. Eleanor’s harsh view of addicts is motive enough.
This obviously high, or higher-budget film contains very strong acting from some underappreciated stars. Besides a few missteps (for instance, the scene in which Jackie learns all the secrets of Havenhurst by reading newspaper headlines), Havenhurst provides comfortable, well-known chills that make for easy viewing. Like a detective novel, it is unlikely that you’ll remember much about Havenhurst following its conclusion. Still, even junk food has its perks, and Havenhurst is a well-wrought cheeseburger.
Havenhurst will be released on February 10th.